Last week I got an email from a wheat farmer in South Dakota. He had read Grain Brain and mentioned he learned a lot by doing so. In the interest of furthering his knowledge, he wanted to know what message I had for grain farmers. If he was to quit producing grain and wheat, he wanted to know what farmers who want to produce products that are healthy for consumers should be doing, both to produce something that can “feed the world,” and make a sustainable business for them. I was very excited to hear from him, and think it’s a fascinating topic, so I’m sharing our exchange with all of you.
After reading Grain Brain, he e-mailed me the following:
I own a wheat farm, just bought your book and read it last night. I like to learn about things, and enjoyed your book.
If you have a message to the farmers in the world who grow grains and feed the planet, what would it be?
Farmers represent 1% of the population of the world yet provide all the food, so our perspective is a bit lost out there in the “real world”. Just curious if you consider our perspective from something other than the knee jerk greedy capitalist point of view. If we quit producing grain, what should we do instead? I presume the world will be hungry when all the bread and pasta is gone, not to mention being upset about the beer.
Not trying to be flippant here, serious question. I would love to produce a product that is healthy for the consumer. Hope to hear from you.
I promptly responded:
I am very grateful to have received your very sincere letter. Clearly, the message in Grain Brain must truly represent a deep challenge to you now that you’ve had the opportunity to explore the current science as it relates not only to the issue of gluten sensitivity but also carbohydrate exposure. The latter becomes an issue for you somewhat more indirectly until you recognize that by and large products made from wheat ultimately represent significant sources of carbohydrate exposure in the modern Western diet.
It is truly a remarkable statistic that you and your fellow farmers represent only 1% of the population but yet you are able to feed all the rest of us. So I and the other 99% owe so much to you and your fellow farmers. That said, the current crop you have chosen to provide is indeed the source of many of the ills of our modern world. And this statement is made with no intention of disrespect to you personally. Clearly the role of wheat in human disease is just beginning to be understood.
I know precious little about farming, but I do know that there are crops being grown that offer up significant health benefits without the risk posed by wheat. A few examples include pistachio nuts which are gaining huge market share here in the U.S., other nut and seed crops, and of course various above ground vegetables. Again, I cannot pretend to have any knowledge about what it might take to retrofit a farming operation to support such a change.
I am respectfully yours,
David Perlmutter, MD
RB was very appreciative of my response, and took the time to give me his thoughts on what I had to say:
First of all thank you very much for the reply, I wasn’t expecting anything (no offense) – it just seems less than frequent in this day and age. So, again greatly appreciated.
I won’t keep bothering you, but as I read your book and consider the evolution of human anthropology through work from folks like Jared Diamond (Germs, Guns and Steel, etc.) it is fascinating to ponder the path we humans have taken in the last few centuries. The impact that our environment and food sources has is astounding relative to our current welfare and health.
So, my interest in your work and implications to modern agriculture raises the question of sustainability for the worlds food requirements. Simply, can we eliminate the major grains (corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice) and continue to feed the current 7 billion hungry mouths? I think it is a great question, and begs for the answer to alternative and healthier food supplies that us farmers would be looked upon to supply. Not every area that currently grows grains can simply switch to nuts and vegetables, those are unique environmental areas that support those food stuffs. In my case I think I could grow flax, maybe a good switch – I don’t know.
Anyway, again thanks much. I actually have been researching a bit of this on my own and in the last 4 weeks gave up my precious grains and pastas and sugars (well not all, but a great deal). In place I have feasted on steak, bacon and eggs, and some god awful looking veggie slurpies that my wife makes. Lost 6 pounds in the process and have felt like I have over eaten if anything….so I have to say I think you are on to something.
I’m really so glad that my book was able to kick off a conversation like this. Do you have any thoughts on this issue? Keep the conversation going by sharing them below!